Game Analysis: Return of the Obra Dinn

Game Trailer

Return of the Obra Dinn is a first person puzzle game created by Lucas Pope, who is also well know for his other game Papers, Please. It is the winner of the IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize award in 2019. I first learned of this game from a YouTuber two years ago and have since always wanted to play it fully myself. A few months ago, it was on 50% discount and I finally decided it was time to buy and play it. After 10 hours of constant head-scratching and googling of hints, I finished this masterpiece of a game and am safe to say that it is now one of my favourite games.

Game Screenshot

The game is set in 1807 with the player assuming the role of an insurance inspector. The player’s goal is to determine what happened to everyone who was on board the ship Obra Dinn, which went missing for 5 years.

Game Website:

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics: You are equipped with a thick journal (containing a list of all the names and artist’s sketches of the crew/passengers, and the blueprint of the ship) to record all your findings, including matching everyone’s names to their faces. You are also given a magical pocket watch that can be used on corpses, which then transports you to the moment of the corpse’s death frozen in time. You will also hear a short clip of dialogue/sound effects moments before that death. While exploring moments of deaths, you can use the pocket watch again to explore even more corpses captured in that moment. This game’s mechanics are not just unique, but also really engaging.

Story: The story plays a huge part in this game. It is ultimately the player’s goal to piece together the story, from each person’s death, so I won’t be spoiling it. The deaths also aren’t shown to you in order. The first few corpses you find were the last ones who died, and from their moments of death, you’ll find more corpses from the middle of the ship’s journey, or even the beginning of the ship’s journey. Even though the pieces of story aren’t given to you in order, after piecing them together, the well-crafted story flows in a linear way.

Aesthetics: The game graphics uses a 1-bit monochromatic graphical style mimicking games on early Macintosh computers. (You can also change the screen to mimic to other old computer monitor colors in the settings!) Everything from the soundtrack music, the sound effects, the voice acting, the dialogue, to the appearances of the passengers, come together to give players the feeling that they are really present on a ship in the 1800s.

Technology: Since the graphics of this game mimics that of really old Macintosh computers, it is not very graphics intensive. It is supported on both Windows and Macs, and multiple console devices. This game only requires simple controls, like walking/looking around and keys to turn the pages of the journal and selecting the names and fates of each passenger.

Lens 8: Problem Solving

This game is filled with all types of problems that players have to solve in order to correctly determine all identities and fates of the 60 people on board, sometimes from really subtle hints like who this person usually hang around, or which room of the ship this person has access to. You sometimes even need the process of elimination. There’s really nothing more satisfying than slowly but correctly filling up pages in the journal after working out each person’s fate.

Lens 6: Curiosity

The game hooks players in and keeps them hooked using its gameplay loop: you find a corpse and replay their death, causing you to wonder questions like why did that person kill them? why are these people fighting? The only way to satisfy your curiosity is to keep playing, uncovering even more deaths, and more questions.

Lens 87: Character Traits

Each of the 60 people is designed down to the minute detail. Each person has a unique face, name, dialogue, voice (accent), role on the ship (eg. captain, passenger, gunner), country of origin, all accurate to the time period they are in (1800s). This allows players to identify the identities of everyone accurately.

In conclusion, this game definitely deserves every praise it receives. I really look forward to more games from Lucas Pope.

Game Design Analysis: Samsara Room

Samsara Room is a point-and-click (and drag) mystery escape room game in the Cube Escape series. The player has woken up in a mysterious room and has to find a way to escape. The game encourages the player to explore the environment as much as possible to discover hidden secrets and ways that game objects may interact with each other.


Elemental Tetrad:
Samsara, the title of the game, is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change (from Wikipedia). The game integrates this concept into the story well, with the player travelling between different interconnected worlds, while partly transforming into the creature that represents each world’s theme.

The mechanics are quite simple: Point and click with dragging. Unlike most other escape-room games and other games in this series, this game allows the player to drag some items. Players are also able to click on some items to store them into their inventory to use them later.

The game has a simplistic but stylised art style which is reminiscent of paper cutouts. Each element of the scene feels like it belongs and the look of interactable items is well integrated.

The game was created using Adobe Flash and is available on PC, iOS and Android. It doesn’t require other special technology.

Other Lenses: (Lens numbers are based on the app)
Lens 2: Essential Experience
The essential experience of the game is to explore the world and solve puzzles to unlock new areas. The player can understand the aim of the game through the image of the cycle of worlds that appears at the beginning of the game and at many times throughout the story. After solving the first room, the player can make the connection through the picture that the goal is to find the four items that unlocks the portals and allows you to explore the five other rooms and eventually escape.

Lens 8: Problem Solving
Each object in the scene can be interacted with in some way. If the way of interaction is not immediately obvious, the player is led to assume that it is a puzzle with an answer that can be found somewhere else. Most puzzles require interacting with the items in a realistic way. For instance, later in the game, there is a squirrel which is holding a feather, which the player needs to move on. However, clicking on the squirrel does nothing, so the player would just move on and solve other puzzles. Later, after collecting other feathers, I realised that I had a sunflower seed, and I could make the connection that I needed to give it to the squirrel to get the feather. This style of puzzles makes solving each one feel satisfying and in my experience, there are no puzzles where the player is confused about the solution or that could be solved by guessing.

I used the knife to open an envelope

Lens 62: Transparency
In my opinion, the game conveys its mechanics to the player well. At the start of the game, unobtrusive test boxes near the top of the screen tell you that you can click to move around, interact with objects, and use inventory objects, and drag certain objects. The first room contains both puzzles that need clicking and dragging, ensuring that the player does not forget about the dragging mechanic, which is uncommon in similar games. Later on, if one mechanic doesn’t work, the player is able to instinctively try the other in order to be able to progress.

Lens 94: Atmosphere
Like other games in this series, Samsara Room has a creepy atmosphere, but doesn’t have many overtly ‘horror’ elements. It creates a sense of suspense with moving or flickering elements, such as the player’s black reflection, and the music, which also contains ticking noises to create a sense of urgency and dread. At certain moments during the game, the player’s click or action may cause a shocking item to appear, such as an arm, or a moon with an eye. As I knew other games in this series had more shocking images and even jumpscares, I felt tense whenever I knew I was about to solve an important puzzle, so I was immersed in the atmosphere even when what actually happened was not that scary.

Game Design Analysis: Tekken 7


Tekken 7 (鉄拳7) is a two-player fighting game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, and was released back in 2017. In this game, the player can choose to match against other players or AI opponents in various game modes, and try to best their adversaries with a character of their choice within one minute.

Gameplay Demo

Essential Experience (Lens# 2)

Tekken 7 offers its players a very thrilling experience.

Because of how players are competing against each other while racing against time, both players play pivotal roles in determining the flow of combat.

Players can either choose to play aggressively into their opponents by attacking relentlessly and not giving them a chance to strike back, or defensively such that they throw out big moves only when capitalizing on the opponent’s mistakes. Thus, by playing a combination of the two strategies, players are consistently kept on their toes so that they are better prepared to respond to their opponent’s actions and playstyles.

The nail-biting experience that Tekken 7 brings is especially evident when it comes down to the last few seconds where both players are critically low on health, where any one mistake would cost the player the game. The creators of Tekken 7 were very well-aware of this very experience that it wants to bring to its players. As such, in order to enhance that experience even further, they introduced the slow-mo mechanic (which does not exist in previous titles of the Tekken franchise) to really accentuate the thrill and exhilaration in that short tense moment.

Below is a video that demonstrates the slow-mo mechanic.

Elemental Tetrad (Lens #9)



Unlike some of the other popular fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros, Tekken 7 sets its players in a 3D environment, where players can not only move horizontally and vertically through conventional movements such as walking, running and jumping, they can also move into the foreground or background by sidestepping. Sidestepping at the precise time will cause the opponent’s move to whiff, which leaves him vulnerable to follow-up attacks.


Every character has three broad types of attacks – Low, Mid, High. Each of them can Counter hit an opponent that is in the middle of an attack animation, which can inflict special behavioral properties on the opponent.

Each of these attacks can have different properties – Throw, Launcher, Power Crush, Screw Attack, Wall Bound.

Rage Mode becomes available when a character falls below a certain health level. Under this state, the character has damage amplification for all moves and gains access to Rage Art and Rage Drive.


The development of Tekken’s lore occurs over Tekken 1-7. The video below summarizes what happened in Tekken’s lore.

The lore of Tekken 7 is largely irrelevant to the experience that the game wants to bring to its audience. A player can essentially not know anything relating to the story of the game to enjoy the experience that it intends to bring to the player.


The game has amazing aesthetics as evident from the appealing 3D design of the unique character models and also the environment.

Character animations are also fluid and together with amazing particle effects, they make combos look impactful and visually appealing .


The game was developed using UE4, and are primarily designed for arcade joystick inputs.


Although the game design uses all 4 elements of the elemental tetrad, the story element is the element that I feel is largely lacking and definitely needs an improvement to further bring value to the Tekken 7 experience. Otherwise, the other elements of the game are very robust and bring a cohesive touch to the overall Tekken 7 experience.

Novelty (Lens #24)

This novelty aspect of this game is evident. Because as previously mentioned, today’s conventional fighting games usually restrict players to 2D movement, but Tekken 7 introduced the concept of ‘Sidestepping’, which allows players to move into the foreground and background, which gives players room for more creativity in their playstyle.

In addition to adding one more dimension of movement, different attacks have unique properties that make them well suited for different kinds of scenarios. This means that every action in Tekken 7 should be deliberate, and carelessly jumping or throwing out unsafe moves will result in a swift punishment by the opponent.

Because of these unique features, Tekken 7 is a novel addition to the fighting game genre.

Skill (Lens #34)

Everything that was mentioned so far is just barely scratching the surface of what Tekken 7 has to offer. There are still many aspects to the game that was not touched on simply because of the staggering complexity this game entails.

In order to really perform well in this game, players will have to be aware of the different tools that are available to every single character in the game, so that they are prepared for whatever comes their way. Not being familiar with the match-ups will lead to a player being hit by the same move over and over again, not knowing how to counter it.

In addition, players will also have to be familiar with something called the Frame Data, so that players can effectively capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes with moves of their own. This game is also exceptionally execution -heavy, which requires a combination of precise hand-eye coordination and button inputs.

Overall, I feel that the game demands the right level of skill from its players since it is designed to be a very technical game that requires lots of in-game knowledge to win.

Game Design Analysis – Invisible, Inc.

Official Site:

Invisible, Inc. is hands down my favourite game of all time. It is a singleplayer turn-based stealth rougelite, developed by indie studio Klei Entertainment. Players assume the role of a remote operator for an espionage agency, controlling a team of agents and an AI, to hack and sneak in and out of rival corporations.

Lens 9 – The Elemental Tetrad

Invisible, Inc. review - A thrilling blend of high-tech stealth and  strategy | Articles | Pocket Gamer

The Aesthetics of Invisible. Inc are beautiful, but more importantly, minimalistic. The graphics are also very focused on relaying essential information to the player in an intuitive manner. You are able to identify hazards and valuables at a glance. If that’s not enough for you, the game even has an inbuilt tactical view that shows only the barebones strategic information that the player needs. All of this contributes to setting the player up to feel like a master strategist, making their actions feel ever more intentional and rewarding.

Technology in Invisible. Inc was nothing too special. It was heavily inspired by XCOM, and as such, most of the technologies used have already been seen before. The one thing that I would like to point out would be its random map generation that I believe is unique to this game, as the maps required for this genre of game have very specific requirements: they have to be “solvable”, varied enough to encourage replayability, all while still looking like a natural floor plan. This was one of the keys to the game’s success as it essentially defined the level design of the game.

There are many Mechanics that contribute to the satisfaction of pulling off a high stakes heist on every level. The most prominent of which would be the security level, a counter that increases every turn and when you get spotted. At fixed increments, new threats will then be introduced. This is the core of the game’s tension, as the player can no longer take their time to gain intel and play safe, they will have to take risks and make exciting decisions like whether to keep looting or to escape. To go hand in hand with this, the game’s difficulty also increases with each level completed, thus applying pressure on the player to improve and to take bigger risks for bigger rewards at every level.

Another important mechanic is the AI that you control. Although rather disconnected from the stealth aspect of the game, hacking the mainframe with the AI adds exponentially more complexity to the game, especially later on when more threats are introduced. The AI also gives the player unrealistic foreknowledge of the level, such as guard patrols and hacked cameras, which all contribute to the fantasy of being an omnipresent strategist.

Last but not least, the Story of Invisible, Inc. is mostly conveyed through engaging voiceovers and cutscenes. The concept of this game was actually inspired by heist movies, which explains its very unique gameplay. The interesting thing about this game is that the best story experiences actually come from the gameplay itself, whether you pull off a clutch escape or lose an agent, these are the moments that you as a player will remember the most.

All in all, the four elements work in harmony to really sell the common theme of espionage and stealth, making it the exciting yet deeply strategic game that I love.

Lens 13 – Infinite Inspiration

Invisible, Inc. was originally inspired by XCOM. In its early development phase, agents had health and ammunition, and combat was the central mechanic of the game. However, the designers at Klei decided that this did not give them the feeling of espionage that they wanted. Eventually, this whole combat system was scrapped in favor of the stealthy gameplay that remains. The designers actually drew inspiration from heist movies, where the protagonist finds themselves in unwinnable fights, unarmed and outnumbered. They will have to overcome the odds using their wits, gadgets, and whatever is present in their environment. This led to the exhilerating underdog experience that players face in the game today.

Lens 37 – Fairness

From a player vs environment perspective, the game is intentionally unfair, starting every level with no intel and vastly outnumbered and surrounded. But as previously mentioned, this just adds to the rewarding feeling of progressing through the level and eventually conquering it as an underdog.

From a skill level perspective, the game is extremely accessible, providing a whole host of options to customise the game’s difficulty, including turning off the turn counter, and making guards get knocked out for longer. Conversely, for those who crave a challenge, the game has a New Game + option with a whole new set of mechanics to make the game harder, as well as a Time Attack option for players who don’t like to sit around and think.

Lens 42 – Head and Hands

As with most turn based strategy games, Invisible, Inc. is 100% a mental game, which requires no physical dexterity to play at all. While this significantly limits their target player base, this makes the game much more appealing to players of this genre. To compliment the mental grind, the game makes sure that actions are very predictable, and that you can take an indefinite amount of time to take any action, so that the player always feels like they are in control.

Lens 69 – Interest Curve

Being a very tactical game, Invisible, Inc. encourages players to think ahead, often leaving players interested in something they have even yet to see. I wonder what’s around this corner? What new threats await me in the levels ahead? By constantly rewarding players with new and interesting mechanics and experiences, the game slowly ramps up the players interest throughout.

The true beauty of the interest curve lies in the individual levels, where the player starts of calm, with very little information and choices to make. But as the level progresses and gets more chaotic, the player gets more and more invested into the level, eventually reaching a climax when they make their grand escape. This is the ever so rewarding interest curve that really sells the replayability of the game, constantly bringing players back for one more level.

In conclusion

I love this game so much like you don’t even know fam.

Game Design Analysis: Pokemon (core series)

Game: Pokemon

Pokemon is a series of role-playing game (RPG) developed by Game Freak and published by The Pokemon Company and Nintendo. In the world of Pokemon, players embark on an adventure to explore the world as Pokemon Trainers, befriend mysterious creatures, save the world from the schemes of villainous gangs and undergo trials to become a Pokemon Master. The main mechanics involve catching Pokemon using special devices and commanding them in battles.

Thoughts and feelings when playing the game

I first played Pokemon about 20 years ago. As a wide-eyed little adventurer, I was immediately attracted the design of the adorable creatures and the concept of discovering the world of Pokemon and I’d be brimming with excitement when i reached new locations, encountered new species and when my Pokemon got stronger and evolved. I would spend hours training my Pokemon and battling with my friends. While it was frustrating to lose sometimes, it challenged me to never give up and develop better strategies for the next battle. Pokemon is truly a video game I’ve always enjoyed playing even until now.

Lens 9: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Pokemon is released on Nintendo consoles, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS and Switch, with the newer installments only compatible with the newer consoles.


Pokemon started off with relatively simple yet novel mechanics. In the overworld, players are free to travel anywhere as long they have the necessary requirements. They can talk to NPCs and interact with objects to unlock new locations/progress the story. Wild Pokemon can also be randomly encountered and added to the player’s team.

In battle, the player calls out a Pokemon, who can be commanded to attack, or switched out for another Pokemon in the player’s team. Each Pokemon has 6 stats – HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed, has up to 2 types, can learn up to 4 different attacks and each type has weaknesses and resistances. All these play a part in determining how much damage a Pokemon deals/receives. Players win a battle by knocking out (reducing HP to 0) all of the opponent’s Pokemon. Some Pokemon can even power up during battles (Mega evolve, Z-move, Dynamax), which is not only cool to behold, but can turn the tides of the entire battle! While the mechanics are rather straightforward (simply choose a command every turn), battles are extremely intricate and require sound predictions and decision-making.


The core series of Pokemon games typically follow the same flow – you start out as a Pokemon Trainer, travel the region, prevent the world’s destruction and eventually becoming the Champion, or the strongest trainer. While some people play Pokemon for the battles, I’d say that the story makes the games far more interesting. The stories in the games feature plots to explore the relationships between people and Pokemon and occasionally challenges our philosophies and outlook in life. This not only makes the gameplay more enjoyable, with clear goals to work towards, but also makes the games more relatable and breathes life to the Pokemon, as we see them for more than creatures humans use in battles.


Pokemon started as a game with simple 2D visuals, which is honestly not that great, but it provided the space for players to imagine a Pikachu zapping opponents over a Gameboy. Over the years with newer installments, graphics improved drastically. The music used in later games also improved drastically and had much more variations, greatly enhancing the tones and moods in the events of the games, making them way more engaging.

Lens 55: The Lens of Visible Progress

Within the story mode of all the core series Pokemon games, there’s a clear way to track your progress and a Trainer – via the official Pokemon League Gym Badges/Island Pilgrimage Stamps from defeating powerful Gym Leaders or Island Kings/Queens in battle. These in-game tokens are a testament of a trainer’s abilities to overcome difficult battles. Trainers then work their way up to beat the Four Heavenly Kings and Champion to become the strongest Trainer in the region. In the post-game, there are even more difficult opponents in facilities like the Battle Frontier and Pokemon World Tournament and triumphing over them upgrades the Trainer Card, further attesting to a Trainer’s skills.

Lens 83: The Lens of Fantasy

Part of the great gameplay experience of the Pokemon games could be attributed to the co-existence with its anime. The anime counterpart of Pokemon focuses much more on storytelling, the presentation of each unique Pokemon and the battles. Different Pokemon have different biology and characteristics that they use to their advantage, some Pokemon are cunning, some clumsy and absent-minded, each have different behaviors and preferences etc. All these, coupled with the human characters and the interactions and relationships between them show us how fun it could be in the world of Pokemon. As players play the game, they can then project the vivid adventures and visuals of the anime onto the game, making the game come to life!

Lens 8: Problem Solving

This player is basically using arguably one of the weakest Pokemon of all to beat a team of monstrously strong Pokemon.

One of the most exciting things in Pokemon is the battles! By connecting to the Internet, Trainers can battle each other all over the world. There are virtually endless combinations of teams one can use in a battle, and arguably, the challenge starts even before the battle. A trainer has to consider the strengths, weaknesses and synergy of a team they put together. During battles, trainers have to keep tabs on the possible threats in the opposing team and think of strategies to outmaneuver them. Using different Pokemon teams and facing different obstacles across various battles, then coming up with strategies to overcome them is what make Pokemon battles so fun!

Lens 5: Fun

As mentioned in Lens 8, Pokemon battles allow trainers to unleash their creativity by putting together a strategy. That’s right, even the most ridiculous of strategies can work. “What if I do this with this Pokemon?” is a question that trainers often think of and before long, we rush to try our newly conceived strategies out. While the mechanics are simple, new strategies and optimization are always being conceived, allowing for fun limited only by our imagination.


Aim to be a Pokemon Master! Pokemon is a game that is straightforward to play, yet extremely intricate from the sheer amount of options and strategies available. The lighthearted concepts of adventures, dreams and friendships with Pokemon, combined with character designs, storylines and musics are also highly appealing, making it suitable for all players, young or old, competitive or casual.

Game Design Analysis: Subway Surfers (Space Station)

Subway Surfers is a single-player game where the player seeks to collect the most coins in a highly dynamic and fast-paced environment where there are trains and obstacles to avoid. The gameplay gets faster as the player progresses through the obstacles and time passes, making it a fun and challenging experience.

This new version of the game is in a space station backdrop, as observed in the design of the gameplay background and props. This analysis will examine how the different game design lenses apply to Subway Surfers.

Lens 1: Essential Experience

The essential experience of this game is to collect as many coins. However, an interesting secondary objective to enable this essential experience is the need to escape oncoming trains, which becomes more challenging as the game goes on. In addition, there are also barriers which act as obstacles which the player can slide under, and the option to climb onto the top of the trains, where there are often coins available for the players.

Lens 6: Problem Solving

Interestingly unlike many other games, the idea of complex problem solving is not applied in this game. Problem solving is often used in games to give players a sense of accomplishment. In contrast, this game does provide players with a sense of accomplishment primarily through the timing of their actions to avoid the obstacles, which enable them to go a further distance and have more opportunities to collect more coins.

This singular focus throughout the game makes the game extremely addictive in the short term, with players able to grasp the basic concepts and mechanics of the game very quickly, motivating them to persevere to achieve a better score, which is then highlighted in the game user interface as displayed in the image below when the player achieves a high score. Conversely, the game is likely to not be able retain a big number of users as there is little variation to the game, resulting in less incentive for the player to explore further and continue playing in the long term.

Lens 7: Elemental Tetrad

In terms of aesthetics, the game’s aesthetics are well-designed and appealing, with the combination of the immersive design of the space station coupled with the sound effects. In particular, the jingle sounds when the player collects coins acts as a positive feedback mechanism and encourages the player to continue to strive to collect more coins. This inherently also acts as an audio cue for users to understand the objective when learning the game.

The mechanics of the game applies basic physics, especially with regards to the jumping and landing of the character when he seeks to avoid the oncoming trains. In terms of the story, there is hardly any plot development, and the player has a simple aim of collecting the coins, as mentioned in the analysis of Lens 6: Problem Solving.

Technologically, being aimed in the smartphone market, this game creates an addictive gaming experience and is played in the portrait orientation, which is highly suitable for the display of the oncoming trains.

Lens 48: Simplicity

The simplicity of the controls makes the game highly accessible to all ages. This game encompassess three simple actions

  1. Swiping up: to jump
  2. Swiping down: to duck under obstacles
  3. Swiping left/right: to change between the three lanes of the track

The intuitive game design makes it a simple gaming experience and one that is easy to learn. This explains why it was especially popular with youths in the initial release of the game due to its simplicity and yet addictive objective of getting a better score than their peers and friends.


As a whole, Subway Surfers is a game that is simple yet extremely addictive. Interestingly, the simplicity of the game is what makes the players want to keep playing to achieve a higher score. Although it does not have intricate problem solving challenges, the simple mechanics of the game make it addictive in the short-term and create an accessible gaming experience for all ages and individuals.